Tomorrow not only is a major showdown between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the Pennsylvania primary, it’s also Earth Day — when environmentalists celebrate the founding of their movement. Both Democratic presidential candidates have pandered significantly to the Earth-first crowd,  promising millions in federal dollars for “green collar” jobs as well as supporting a cap-and-trade approach to cutting carbon emissions. Both policies appear sound on a cursory glance, but a close review exposes them as nothing more than clever marketing designed to deceive Americans into ignoring real and high costs.

Green Collar Jobs: There is no actual definition of what a “green collar” job is, but this makes it even easier for politicians to inflate the numbers they promise to create. Judging from the candidates’ pronouncements on the issue, however, it appears any job tangentially linked to more environmentally friendly outcomes would be counted. So a worker on an assembly line in a factory making hybrid vehicles would count as green collar, as would a construction worker building an environmentally friendly building. The lie at the core of the green-collar myth is that new jobs are being created.  But employment actually is being moved from the non-green sector to the green sector … and often at a net loss of jobs. If regulations force power companies to forgo natural gas for solar power, then sure the people who manufacture and install the panels will have “new” jobs, but those who mined and distributed the natural gas will be out of jobs. Not to mention that higher energy prices because of the regulations will force large and small businesses to lay off workers to cope with rising energy costs.

Cap and Trading Emissions: The Washington Post yesterday did a decent job of explaining what cap-and-trade is and why it is so possible on Capitol Hill:

Here’s how cap-and-trade works. The government gives companies allowances — that is, permits to emit greenhouse gases — based on their past emissions, but set at lower levels than in the past. Companies can then simply cut their emissions levels, or buy allowances from more efficient companies in order to let a less green firm keep spewing greenhouse gases. … No one can say exactly how much the proposed system would cost consumers or industries. That might actually help its chances in Congress. It’s a harder target to assail than a straightforward tax on carbon emissions — an option favored by many economists but virtually no politicians.

What the Post neglected to report, however, is that cap-and-trade has been a colossal failure in Europe for precisely the same reason it is politically popular here: The evidence shows it’s impossible for the system to set a price for carbon that creates the right incentives to reduce carbon emissions. The EU has repeatedly tinkered with its regulations, but the EU’s carbon output continues to rise.

At the core of cap-and-trade’s failure is that’s it’s not possible to verify reductions in carbon to the point that they can be commodified. New Zealand’s Bryan Leyland put it best:

So, to my knowledge, carbon trading is the only commodity trading where it is impossible to establish with reasonable accuracy how much is being bought and sold, where the commodity that is traded is invisible and can perform no useful purpose for the purchaser, and where both parties benefit if the quantities traded have been exaggerated. … It is, therefore, an open invitation to fraud and that is exactly what is happening all over the world.

The lies behind cap-and-trade and green-collar jobs are essentially the same: Both attempt to trick Americans into believing they can get something for nothing. In addressing environmentalists’ claims, it also is helpful to remember there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Buried somewhere are real costs to American jobs and economic growth that many liberal environmentalists are desperate to avoid. Conservatives can’t let them get away with it.

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